Last week’s announcement that Busch Entertainment, the theme park division of Anhauser Bush had signed a deal with Nakheel to develop a clutch of theme parks in the emirate heralded a new phase in their business, as the company, perhaps left a little in the shade by it US competitors, Disney and Universal, revealed its international ambitions. Some analysts had thought China the more likely location for such a venture but as Thursday’s news conference made clear, Shamu is going to the Middle East not the Far East.
Based on Nakheel’s man-made island, The Palm Jebel Ali, the four theme parks in the ambitious "Worlds of Discovery" project will be SeaWorld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove, with the first set to open in 2012.
Today’s news from Six Flags that it is to join the Tatweer portfolio of big names in Dubailand (Dreamworks, Universal, Tiger Woods, HIT Entertainment) marks another dramatic entrance onto the international stage for an American icon. The world’s biggest regional theme park company looks set to become an international force. Wall Street analysts have had a bumpy ride with Six Flags this last few years, it will be instructive to see how they react to this news.
Meanwhile, The Orlando Sentinel’s Jason Garcia poses a pertinent question: "Does Dubai pose a threat to Orlando?". Europeans have been visiting Orlando in decreasing numbers since 9/11 and Dubai is an hour closer .
My own thoughts on this is : not just yet. Dubai is endlessly fascinating and of course the scale of the vision is remarkable but as highlighted recently by JRA‘s Keith James there is no shortage of vision and ambition but it is the infrastructure which has to catch up. Furthermore Dubai faces enormous socio-economic changes over the next decade, the man-power, mostly from South East Asia will demand better conditions, better pay, worker’s rights. All these theme parks need skilled operators too, at every level and such experience is not readily available. So whilst Dubailand’s projected footfall, like the projects themselves, is highly ambitious at 15 million by 2010, there is a lot of work still to do. Orlando can rest easily for now…